Most central features of human life, such as disease,
reproduction, cooperation, language and politics can be investigated. In
each case there are basic facts that most researchers accept and broad
agreement about methods of investigation. None of this holds in the case of
awareness (or consciousness, as it is sometimes called).
If we are ever to understand what it is, we need to by start thinking about
what roles awareness plays. Why does it matter that we are sometimes
perceptually aware of things?
Reading (optional): Kelber, A., Vorobyev, M., and Osorio, D. (2003). Animal colour vision – behavioural tests and physiological concepts. Biological Reviews, 78(01):81–118.
According to what I will call the Simple Hypothesis,
Perceptual awareness enables us to identify things and report what we have identified.
Sidis (1898) challenges the Simple Hypothesis with an experiment on perception without
Reading (optional): Sidis, B. (1898). The psychology of suggestion. Appleton, New York.
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‘the ability of patients with absolute, clinically established, visual field defects
caused by occipital cortical damage to detect, localize, and discriminate visual stimuli
despite being phenomenally visually unaware of them’
- Cowey, A. (2010). The blindsight saga. Experimental Brain Research, 200(1):3–24.
- Marcel, A. J. (1998). Blindsight and shape perception: Deficit of visual consciousness or of visual function? Brain, 121(8):1565–1588.
- Weiskrantz, L., Barbur, J. L., and Sahraie, A. (1995). Parameters affecting conscious versus unconscious visual discrimination with damage to the visual cortex (V1). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 92(13):6122–6126.
- Shea, N. and Frith, C. D. (2016). Dual-process theories and consciousness: The case for ‘Type Zero’ cognition. Neuroscience of Consciousness, 2016(1).
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What are the functions of perceptual awareness?
The Simplest Idea is that Perceptual awareness enables control of action.
But we have already seen three objections to this Idea.